I’m Going to Dreamland

** Minor Spoilers of Netflix’s Hollywood ahead **

I don’t know about anyone else but for the last few months I’ve been living in dreamland.

This is a good place to be for about 50% of the time, given the realities of a worldwide pandemic.  Which doesn’t change the fact that for the other half of the time it’s been, let’s face it, kind of nightmarish.

Yeeps

Of course, nightmares are also dreams, just ones that bring out strong feelings of fear, terror, distress or anxiety.  At least, that’s the dictionary definition.

Though most of us don’t think of dreams or dreamlands quite that way.

We Americans especially like our dreams.  We like them so much we even once upon a time coined the aspirational phrase, The American Dream and had ourselves believing it for more than several generations.

In 1950, anthropologist Hortense Powdermaker took this idea one step further by famously naming Hollywood The Dream Factory.  In that seminal book, she masterfully dissected the push and pull between art and commerce in a culture and industry that has never done particularly well at balancing both.

Still, we soldier on and attempt to make sense of things, don’t we?  In much the same way we try to understand how a wonderful dream could just as easily become an unendurable, soul-crushing nightmare.

Certainly anyone who has lived in Hollywood for any length of time could wax poetic on both (Note: Depressingly so, for at least 50% of the time).  As a Hollywood resident myself for close to four decades, well, don’t get me started and don’t even ask where I would start….

It was with this understanding that I approached Netflix’s new Ryan Murphy miniseries Hollywood.   That is because, well, there is no other way to approach it.

Let Miss Patti take you for a ride

Hollywood is a perfectly flawed, dreamy, nightmarish and confoundingly implausible representation of the American, well, dream, told through the lens of moviemaking in the 1940s.

It’s fabulously beautiful in both sets and human beings, the latter of whom seem almost inhuman, especially the men.  But that’s the point, isn’t it?  When you can’t get beauty in real life Hollywood can always, to some degree, provide it.

How is this allowed?

It is also fabulously absurd in a fairly satisfying way as it attempts to bridge the gap of facts and fantasy by using the lives of both real life Hollywood people and make believe characters we might have enjoyed them encountering in order to address the sins and Pyrrhic victories of our collective pasts.

I, for one, don’t mind seeing a shy, soon-to be-famous Rock Hudson falling in love with a talented and very hot Black male screenwriter.  Not to mention, it’s pretty thrilling to experience the smart mouthy woman married to an obnoxious, know-it-all studio chief get the chance to choose what movies she thinks should get made when her husband becomes unceremoniously, um, indisposed.   Most especially, who wouldn’t enjoy seeing Eleanor Roosevelt making a convincing case for the first Black female star of a mainstream Hollywood movie to a mini-board room of power brokers and somehow managing to change history?

Too much, too silly, too ridiculous, too many plot holes?  I don’t think so.  And yes, of course, there are and it is.

Like most Ryan Murphy shows this is the point, the conceit, the infuriating flaw and the watchable/unwatchable challenge we’re up against.  We dealt with it to good and bad effect in every season of FX’s American Horror Story, raged at it all during the first season of his continuing Netflix series The Politician, admired the tight balancing act in the Emmy award-winning The Assassination of Gianni Versace and marveled at the sheer strangeness of it in his first bona fide big hit TV show, Nip/Tuck.

Not to mention his most delicious camp delicacy #mamacita4Ever

The one thing you can say about Mr. Murphy’s work is that it’s seldom drab and dull.  As a fellow gay man of a certain age, I’ve personally dubbed him The Great Pasticher.  Take any one of his series and you’ll find multiple homages to scenes from famous movies and TV shows, history, current events and pop culture in general all twisted in whatever fashion HE deems fit in order to tell a story.

It’s a love it or hate it approach to art but it’s almost never boring.  I’d rather deal with a zillion plot holes than be bored to tears and on this score, nothing he does, even the trashiest of the campiest, ever totally disappoints.

Boring is not in his vocabulary

One of the primary conceits of Hollywood is the centerpiece location of the Golden Tip service station (Note:  Oh yes, he did come up with that name), where men, women and presumably anyone in between can hire one of many hunky hot male attendants for sexual favors and get their every tank imaginable filled to dizzying effects.

All you have to do is drive up to the gas pump, look into the attendant’s eyes and utter the magic phrase:

I WANT TO GO TO DREAMLAND.

Take me away

And then, yeah, it’s just that damn easy.  In fact, far, far simpler than finding the balance in real life and, well, who wouldn’t like that???

Of course, this fictional filling hole is not made up out of thin air but rather a roman à clef version of a gas station in the real 1940s Hollywood famously run by the late Scotty Bowers. 

If you’re a gay guy of, once again, a certain age like myself and Mr. Murphy and haven’t heard of Scotty at this point, well, that’s impossible.  But for the rest of you, check out his 2012 memoir, Full Service, about the business in question and you’ll see Hollywood (the miniseries, at least) strays only far enough away from the facts to make its overall point.  You might also want to check out the 2017 documentary of his life, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood and ask yourself if, at the end of the day, you don’t find everything he says and has claimed, well, mostly true

This is the consistent aspirational nature of much of Mr. Murphy’s work.  That would be a what if fantasy correcting the past for any of us who have been or ever felt marginalized. (Note: This of course, is pretty much everybody as far as real-life Hollywood is concerned).

It’s not always an accurate or totally buyable portrayal but, somehow, if you squint, he often makes it seem possible and, strangely, beautiful.  It’s a different kind of dream factory, to be sure, but one that gives us a brief respite from the Nightmare (Note: Pick One) we’re currently living through quite nicely.

Netflix Hollywood Trailer Music

A Much Needed Distraction…

The Chair is taking a seat this week. Rest assured he’s doing well, and the only thing he is sick of is cable news and news in general (though he still has love for Rachel, because, well, duh). Like many Chairs around the country, he is writing and reading and discovering every limitation of distance learning (including his hatred for the term “distance learning”).

But he couldn’t go a week without sharing some pop culture bit that will lift your spirits and distract you from… well.. everything.

Without further adieu — the thing we all needed and didn’t know we needed it: a tour of Patti Lupone’s basement.

You’re welcome.

The Big Yawn

dog-picture-photo-chihuahua-spitz-puppies-yawn

You’ll have plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead!”  — Aunt Nan.

Broadway legend Patti LuPone played a character based on my Aunt Nan in the 1993 movie I wrote called Family Prayers, so my thinking is this – any advice given by a person who readers, executives and audiences (okay, it was a small audience, but still…) uniformly embraced as a film character should be taken seriously.  And if you knew Nanie (my nickname for her), sort of a cross between a real life Auntie Mame and a white Pearl Bailey (younger people might want to substitute a more grounded, earthy version of Jessica Walter on Arrested Development or in Archer) you’d be scared not to.

Two sassy bitches

Aunt Nan and Lucille Bluth: two sassy bitches

Still, I wouldn’t be her nephew if from time to time I didn’t take a moment to, like her – sit back perched on my sofa, drink in hand, and totally disobey an authority figure (even if it is her) as I utter exactly what I think in the moment.  In this case, it boils down these four words:

I AM SOOOOOOOOOO EXHAUSTED!!!!

Stop complaining, you say.  It’s not like you’re working down in the coal mines or, to use a more contemporary reference, are in danger of being subjected to another season of Smash.  To this I answer (as Nanie would) – go to hell or, to use a more contemporary analogy, go bury yourself in a sea of Justin Bieber tweets.  Someone has to speak the truth and I’m the ingrate to do it.  At least today.  Tomorrow might bring out a nicer, more constructive me – the kind some of you (but not all) have grown used to.  But that’s only if I get a good four nights of sleep and I am able to time travel to my favorite moments in 1968 and 1973 and 1984 with all the knowledge and empowerment I have right now and take care of a few people and things as I wave a magic wand and wipe out laser disks, 8 tracks and any trace of Michael Bay movies for all of eternity.  So don’t dress.

This current wave of vitriol-spewing sloth was brought on by too much work, too little exercise, too many personal and professional mini-crises to handle in the last few months and a profound lack of sleep that we all suffer from time to time.  In other words, everyday life.   It might also have to do with the anticipation of the next weeks, which are renowned to be a trying time for college professors worldwide as they settle down to read tens of thousands of papers, screenplays and other written material, attempting to  constructively critique and objectively rate (translation – give a grade to) work that is totally subjective and un-rateable in less time than it takes to turn out a very bad episode of the worst and most offensive reality show on television.  Fill in your title of choice on this one – mine is Keeping up with the Kardashians.  Sorry (not really) Kim.

In an effort to be fair to both students and readers given these circumstances, I thought it was only good form to get some of this out of my system.  After all, experts tell us the best way to revitalize is to unload your burdens either through physical activity or mental excavation as you relax and unwind via one or several of the many millions of methods available.   Though I know the former is better in the long run I much prefer the latter – especially when I can subject others to it and get it out of my house of cards and into  yours uh – theirs.  And since we know misery loves company, perhaps some of this will help re-invigorate a few of you to add to the list — or simply re-appropriate stuff from mine and allow me some additional extra relief.

(Cautionary Note: Obviously I’m too tired to care what happens once these thoughts leave what’s left of my brain, so — beware.)

REASONS FOR CONTEMPORARY EXHAUSTION IN THIS ONE PARTICULAR WEEK IN 2013 AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT:

ZACH BRAFF KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN BACKLASH

That's over 2 million, haters.

That’s over 2 million, haters.

Zach Braff has raised more than $2 million in three days to finance an independent movie ten years after he was nominated for an Oscar for writing and directing the film Garden State.  Question: Why does this bother ANYONE?  How does this take away money from poor filmmakers?  Don’t you know that studios don’t even want to make movies with live action people anymore, much less small quirky stories that have no sequel or Happy Meal/App potential?  Garden State was a cool film.  I wish I had done it and want to see more like it.  So – wait for it – I gave him money.  As I regularly do to projects from former students and other poor people.  If you’re spending time hating on ZB, you’re not working at your own stuff.  Get. Over. Yourself.  Meanwhile I’ll see you (not!) at the rough-cut screening I’m invited to next year.  Wearing my free T-shirt.  And carrying my autographed copy of the script.  So there.

RYAN MURPHY PONTIFICATING FROM THE MOUNT

You know how we feel, Ryan.

You know how we feel, Ryan.

I admire Ryan Murphy and love that he’s a creative force in the industry.  American Horror Story is one of my favorite shows on TV.  Glee helped so many kids with self-esteem issues and was a lot of fun (well, at least during the first two seasons).  But if I read one more article telling me Ryan has been known to tell his writing staffs things like “I’m obsessed with the color orange right now.  Figure out a way we can do a tribute to orange”; hear one more anecdote about him and his husband and their perfect son who was born through a surrogate; or click on one more video where Ryan is showing off the overpriced personal artifacts he had flown from all over the world into his heavy handedly-designed sprawling L.A. house, I’m going to pull what little hair is remaining in my scalp out and will be as bald as he is. (And I don’t have the budget for his cool hats).  Ryan – you’re wonderful. Please, please, please – for the love of God (or whoever you believe Her to be) – STOP.  Less is the new….More.

AMANDA BYNES-BASHERS

Yeesh. Turn the cameras off.

Yeesh. Turn the cameras off.

There is nothing funny or even newsworthy about young, formerly hot actresses roaming the city streets as they tweet inappropriate words and thoughts about their private body parts and looking confused after they shave off half of their hair.  I don’t know this young woman.  I wasn’t ever a fan or a foe.  And I have a pretty sick sense of humor and a fairly devout passion against censorship.  But contrary to what some comedians claim, some jokes about some people are just not right in that moment.  Lindsay Lohan being trailed across the world by the paparazzi day in and day out as she slowly implodes and explodes is no more entertaining than the photos of the late, great crack-addicted sad story Amy Winehouse wandering the streets of London or falling down onstage as she warbled off key with barely a vestige of her unique, once-in-a-lifetime voice.  Last week I saw the brilliant British actress Tracie Bennett sing and act the part of Judy Garland at the end of her life onstage in The End of the Rainbow.  It was amazing work and captured a woman who was funny, sad and, even at her drug-addled end, still able to pull together her amazing talent.  Many of these young women today are not as fortunate.  And it’s far from amusing.

VEGAN-ESE

I think you know what this looks like to me..

I think you know what this looks like to me..

I love my vegan friends, eat no red meat myself and very much enjoy salads and vegetables.  But tempeh and tofu are not chicken and burgers.  They are perfectly acceptable proteins on their own if one so chooses.  So why, why, why are they constantly being referred to as such in vegan restaurants and by food writers and the mass media?  Also, full confession:  I willingly eat a little cheese.  It’s not the end of the world.  As Ava Gardner says in an attempt to calm Howard Hughes at the height of his OCD in Martin Scorcese’s very underrated The Aviator – “Nothing’s clean, Howard.  But we do our best, right?”

BRANDING

Pick your own cattle prod!

Pick your own cattle prod!

Can’t anything just be what it is anymore?  Why does it have to be a part of or spawn countless subsets?  Granted, we are all a bit of something else – our parents, our families, mankind, people who survived George W. Bush.  But do we have to constantly be reminded of it?  I remember watching the original Bonanza as a kid in the 1960s (look it up) and it often featured cattle and fire branding.  Does everyone need to have a prime Grade A logo of a commodity burnt into their unique flesh, or in this day and age tattooed, onto their arm, behinds or latest piece of work in order to be deemed worthy?  As a gay, Jewish, intellectual, brown-haired (sort of), writer, teacher, one who lives in a domestic partnership, and someone who is part of the group that is on the very end cusp of the baby boomer generation, and even larger and more notable group, I say — NOT!

 

WORST ALLERGY SEASON EVER

My best chance of survival this spring..

My best chance of survival this spring..

You don’t want to know how many pills, inhalers and shots I do daily and monthly in order to maintain my current state of precarious health.  I don’t need to constantly be reminded about how bad the air is in comparison to what it was 25 years ago or warned that the next month, year or decade will be even worse.  Logic, headaches, a cloudy state of mind, sight and my mood tell me this.  And if you write in and tell me it’s because I am not vegan I will personally brand you a non-Belieber and let you know my worst allergy of all is to nuts – a staple of the majority of vegan foods.  Incidentally, this was discovered when, as a 3-year-old, my parents tried to shut me up in the back seat of a car with a can of Planters mixed nuts and instead had to rush me to the hospital.  It didn’t work for them then.  It won’t work for you now.

SPEAKING OF BELIEBERS…

In lieu of a pic of Beiber, here's Jon Hamm walking his dog.

In lieu of a pic of Beiber, here’s Jon Hamm walking his dog.

Stop saying Justin Bieber looks like a lesbian.  Lesbians are much cooler and hipper.  He’s an adolescent with a gabillion dollars who can sing and dance well in a very mainstream, non-threatening sort of way.  He didn’t have much schooling (you sooo don’t want to tell me about the school of life) — of course he doesn’t understand the ramifications of publicly asking in writing via the guest book at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam whether Anne Frank would have been a Belieber?  What is wearying is how much more time was spent on that rather than on the contents of Anne’s diary during this or any other month of the year and/or decade.

DUBYA REDUX

On display at the Bush Library... where to start?

Maybe I should have posted another Jon Hamm pic?

By any objective intellectual or polling standard, George W. Bush was THE worst American president in modern times and perhaps of all times.  I can’t blame him for wanting to open a library and reinvent his legacy but I can blame the media and his paid consultants and friends for playing fast and loose with the facts during his time in office.   To wit: 1.  The attacks of 9/11 spearheaded by the master terrorist he was warned about over and over again in writing — Osama Bin Laden. 2. The worst crash of the American economy since the great Depression. 3. Record deficits from record inherited financial surpluses left to him by impeached president Bill (@PrezBillyJeff for those in the Colbert Nation) Clinton. 3. The debacle of Hurricane Katrina. 4. Trumped up evidence to finance the costliest and perhaps most pre-determined war in American history – The Iraq War.

Fact:  It’s all a matter of public record.  Creating an interactive presidential videogame at the Bush 43 library doesn’t change anything, especially since it doesn’t include all of the top secret, classified information any American president is privy to at the time they make their decisions, to play with.

Lesson:  When your game is rigged, you can’t ever look really bad – that is, unless people refuse to play the game you’re offering.  Reality:  Despite the touted polls, most of us are not playing and Bush was not and never will be a really good play-ah.

 

SHORT TAKES:

SNACKS1

  • Matt Lauer and Ann Curry have broken up.  Everyone: Let. It. Go.
  •  A change in your routine – any change at all – can be exhausting at first but WILL provide a spark of life and a tad of energy after a few seconds.
  •  James Franco is in too many places at once.  I simply get weary thinking of him.
  •  Writing anything in a journal for 15 minutes first thing in the morning can do wonders for your mood the rest of the day (This advice is appropriated from Julia Cameron’s wonderful book, The Artists’ Way).
  •  Any students or people who use the word its instead of it’s (it’s = it is) or there instead of their (there = over there) should be forced to watch a full season of Keeping Up with theKardashians, culminating with Kim’s wedding.  On a loop.  For a year. (Or perhaps they already have and this is the reason for their misusage).
  • Exercise of any kind (use your imagination) makes you less tired in the long run.  The question is, how do you make yourself do it. (Branding? Cattle prod?)
  •  High art fans who think highly of themselves:  Stop pretending you’ve never seen a sitcom, soap opera or reality show.  Ever.  And get a TV if you don’t have one.  You can join the world and still be brilliant.  (You might even feel less exhausted). 
  •  Low art fans who think highly of themselves: Turn off the TV, go to a museum, watch a film that is not in English, and read a book that is not part of a brand, preferably one in paper and not on a screen.  It feels different.  And it just might be energizing.
  • Everyone Else:  Try. Something. (Or Someone). New. 

As for me, I’m planning to do at least one of these things and report back next week.

Hopefully, I’ll be up to it.

After my nap.